The list that haunted Elijah Taylor
At the start of every year Elijah Taylor sits down and pens a list of his rugby league goals for the year ahead.
Since 2011, without fail it has included the word 'Kiwis', something intended to serve as a beacon to help him get through the tough times, but which has ended up being one of the 27-year-old's greatest sources of frustration.
After amassing 10 Test caps for New Zealand between 2011 and 2013, Taylor missed selection in 2014, again in 2015 and 2016, and this year was originally told he was unwanted for the World Cup, before a series of eleventh-hour player withdrawals presented a second chance.
"It has been frustrating, I won't lie, the Kiwis goal is always there," Taylor told NRL.com.
"There was a burning desire to put on a black jumper again. The thought of playing for New Zealand is something that motivates me when I can't find any motivation during the NRL season.
"In 2015 and 2016, I felt I played really good football for the Panthers. I captained them a few times, then I missed out on the squad.
"In 2016 I went to the Tigers, I helped turn around a season, we nearly made the top eight, but I still missed out on the Kiwis.
"So I knuckled down for 2017 and I still didn't make the cut, I was so disappointed again, I thought I played my heart out for the Tigers and worked as hard as I could. Thankfully as it has turned out, I got the opportunity again.
"I haven't been in the team over the last couple of years so to be back in this environment is something really special."
Taylor has arguably been the best Kiwi player in the NRL not to earn a single Test cap over the past four years, a period in which he has averaged at least 37 tackles and 47 metres per game without ever making more than eight errors across a season.
While a season-ending ACL tear meant he was always going to miss out on the Kiwis in 2014, the workaholic Wests Tigers star said watching New Zealand beat Australia the following year and missing subsequent tours to the UK in 2015 and 2016 was tough.
"It's not until you are back at home while the boys are away on tour that it hits you, they are playing games and all you want is to be back in that team," Taylor said.
"In my Kiwis debut back in 2011 I kind of thought at the time that it was always going to happen. I look back and I took it for granted, I 100 per cent took it for granted.
"Now I have got that opportunity, I'm not going to waste it."
While Jason Taumalolo's decision to represent Tonga rather than New Zealand at the World Cup removes one of the main obstacles to Taylor earning a spot in coach David Kidwell's 17 for the opening match against Samoa, former Kiwis captain Simon Mannering is likely to beat Taylor in the race for the No.13 jersey.
But Taylor says position doesn't concern him if it means a long-awaited 11th Test appearance becomes a reality.
"I've played different positions my whole career, and on Kiwi tours I am used to being the utility," he said.
"I have played some hooker, some centre, some back-row, wherever they put me I'll be giving my all and I am ready to play wherever I am needed."
This article first appeared on NRL.com